Making Big Data Useful: Design, UX and Innovation

Kevin Richardson, Ph.D. / Monday, October 12, 2015

On October 23-24, 2015 I’ve been invited to speak at the User Centered Design (UCD) conference held annually in London. This is a more interesting conference than most (to me) because the talks center around the disruptive and transformative power of design rather than the usual UX presentation topics.

My talk, entitled Making Data Useful: Design, UX and Innovation, focuses on how the design process can be applied to the problem of large data sets. Most importantly, I discuss that while there is a lot of discussion about how big data holds the promise of business growth, large scale innovation, and, perhaps most importantly, insight, there is one fundamental problem: People neither act on, nor infer insight from, data. In fact, unless you’re a machine, data on its own is useless. Someone needs to translate the data into information. And it’s not easy to do (even if you realize that it needs to be done).


Some businesses have begun hiring specialized data analysts to apply machine learning, data compression and other complex algorithmic processes in order to expose statistical relationships between data elements. This approach looks for structure and then attempts to assign meaning. That’s one problem. Another lies with the fact that the larger the data set, the more likely “significant” results will be due to chance.

Most businesses, however, don’t understand the difference between data and information and focus instead on converting data into charts and graphs – dashboards. While dashboards may look nicer than spreadsheets, they are usually just visual representations of data. (However, take a look at some work by the talented UX people at Infragistics to see what can happen when dashboards are done right). The dashboard user is left with the unenviable task of trying to translate the data into a form that is both meaningful and actionable (re: information).

My presentation demonstrates how applying the design process to the problem of large data sets can bridge the gap between the technical challenge of data collection and the human challenge of data interpretation. If you’re in London, stop on by – the first pint is on me.

Big Data” image courtesy of Spencer Levine.


Kevin Richardson has been working in the area of user experience for 25 years. With a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, he has experience across business verticals in the fields of research, evaluation, design and management of innovative, user-centered solutions.

Kevin’s experience includes web sites, portals and dashboards, enterprise software and custom business applications for medical, pharmaceutical, communications, entertainment, energy, transportation and government users.

On the weekends, you can find Kevin on his motorcycle, racing for Infragistics Racing at a number of different racetracks on the East coast.